Compiling a $22 Logic Analyzer

On my way to this year’s Hackaday SuperConference I saw an article on EE Times about someone taking the $22 Lattice iCEstick and turning it into a logic analyzer complete with a Python app to display the waveforms. This jumped out as pretty cool to me given that there really isn’t a ton of RAM on the stick, basically none that isn’t contained in the FPGA itself.

[Jenny List] has also written about the this application as created by [Kevin Hubbard] of Black Mesa Labs and [Al Williams] has a great set of posts about using this same $22 evaluation board doing ground up Verilog design using open source tools. Even if you don’t end up using the stick as a logic analyzer over the long haul, it’ll be very easy to find many other projects where you can recompile to invent a new purpose for it.

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Give Your RPi a Cool FPGA Hat

Need additional, custom IO for your Raspberry Pi? Adding an FPGA is a logical way to expand your IO, and allow for high speed digital interfaces. [Eric Brombaugh]’s Icehat adds a Lattice iCE5LP4K-SG48 FPGA in a package that fits neatly on top of the Raspberry Pi Zero. It also provides a few LEDs and Digilent compatible PMOD connectors for adding peripherals. The FPGA costs about six bucks, so this is one cheap FPGA board.

The FPGA has one time programmable memory, but can also be programmed over SPI. This allows the host Pi to flash the FGPA with the latest bitstream at boot. Sadly, this particular device is not supported by the open source Icestorm toolchain. Instead, you’ll need Lattice’s iCEcube2 design software. Fortunately, this chip is supported by the free license.

Icehat is an open source hardware design, but also includes a software application for flashing a bitstream to the FPGA from the Pi and an example application to get you started. All the relevant sources can be found on Github, and the PCB is available on OSHPark.

While this isn’t the first pairing of a Raspberry Pi and FPGA we’ve seen, it is quite possibly the smallest, and can be built by hand at a low cost.

New Part Day: Pynq Zynq

FPGAs are the future, and there’s a chip out there that brings us the future today. I speak, of course, of the Xilinx Zynq, a combination of a high-power ARM A9 processor and a very capable FPGA. Now the Zynq has been made Pynq with a new dev board from Digilent.

The heart of this board, is, of course, the Xilinx Zynq packing a Dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processor and an FPGA with 1.3 Million reconfigurable gates. This is a dev board, though, and with that comes memory and peripherals. To the board, Digilent added 512MB of DDR3 RAM, a microSD slot, HDMI in and out, Ethernet, USB host, and GPIOs, some of which match the standard Arduino configuration.

This isn’t the first Zynq board out there by any measure. Last year, [antti] had a lot of fun with the Zynq and created the ZynqBerry, a Zynq in a Raspberry Pi form factor, and a Zynq Arduino shield. Barring that, we’ve seen the Zynq in a few research projects, but not so much in a basic dev board. The Pynq Zynq is among the first that will be produced in massive quantities.

There is, of course, one downside to the Pynq Zynq, and that is the price. It’s $229 USD, or $65 with an educational discount. That’s actually not that bad for what you’re getting. FPGAs will always be more expensive than an SoC stolen from a router or cell phone, no matter how powerful it is. That said, putting a powerful ARM processor and a hefty FPGA in a single package is an interesting proposition. Adding HDMI in and out even more so. Already we’ve seen a few interesting applications of the Zynq like synthesizers, quadcopters, and all of British radio. With this new board, hopefully a few enterprising FPGA gurus will pick one up and tell the rest of us mere mortals how to do some really cool stuff.

An Open Source 96 MSPS Logic Analyzer For $22

If you are in the market for an inexpensive USB logic analyser you have a several choices, but few of them deliver much in the way of performance. There are kits from China for a few dollars using microcontrollers at their heart, but they fail to deliver significant sample rates. If you require more, you will have to pay for it.

It is therefore rather interesting to see [kevinhub88]’s SUMP2 project, an open source logic analyser with a claimed 96 MSPS sample rate using an off-the-shelf Lattice iCEstick FPGA evaluation board that only costs about $20. It talks to a host computer via USB using the established SUMP protocol, so its software front-end comes from the logic analyser project. Edit: Since this post was published [Kevin] has contacted us to inform us that the project’s capabilities have now moved beyond SUMP’s capabilities and in fact it now uses his own software.

This project has the promise to add a very useful piece of test equipment to the armoury of the engineer on a budget, and to aid the cost-conscious reader he’s provided extensive documentation and installation instructions, as well as the code for the FPGA. Thanks to one of the more awesome hacks of 2015, there is an entirely open toolchain for this Lattice part, and our own [Al Williams] has written up a multi-part getting-started guide if you want to get your feet wet. You probably want one of these anyway, and now it’s a logic analyzer to boot.

We’ve covered quite a few inexpensive home-produced digital instruments here over the years, including this logic analyser with a slightly higher price tag, this inexpensive VNA, and this oscilloscope board. Maybe one day the bench of our dreams will all come on one open-source PCB for $100, who knows!

Open Design Oscilloscope Could be (Almost) Free

If you could only own one piece of test equipment, it should probably be an oscilloscope. Then again, modern scopes often have multiple functions, so maybe that’s not a fair assertion. A case in point is the Scopefun open hardware project. The device is a capable 2-channel scope, a logic analyzer and also a waveform and pattern generator. The control GUI can work with Windows, Linux, or the Mac (see the video, below).

The hardware uses a Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA. A GUI uses a Cypress’s EZ-USB FX2LP chip to send configuration data to the FPGA.  Both oscilloscope channels are protected for overvoltage up to +/- 50 V. The FPGA samples at 100 Mhz through a 10-bit dual analog-to-digital converter ( ADC ). The FPGA handles triggering and buffers the input before sending the data to the host computer via the USB chip. Each channel has a 10,000 sample buffer.

There are also two generator outputs with short circuit and overvoltage protection ( +/- 50 V ). Generator channels have 50 Ohm internal impedance and also operates via the GUI using the same USB chip. The FPGA generates signals at 50 Mhz using counters, algorithms, or simple waveform data and feeds a DAC.

A 16-bit digital interface can be set as inputs or outputs. The FPGA samples inputs at 100 MHz. The output voltage can be set, but inputs are 5 V tolerant.

According to the developer, you can build the scope from the information provided by using free sample chips from the various vendors, only paying for the small components and the cost of the PCB.

We’ve looked at several low-cost scope options before. Labtool even boasts some similar features.

Hackaday Prize Entry: FPGAs For The Raspberry Pi Zero

The Raspberry Pi is the Arduino of 2016, and that means shields, hats, add-ons, and other fun toys that can be plugged right into the GPIO pins of a Pi. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [Valentin] is combining the Pi with the next age of homebrew computation. He’s developed the Flea Ohm, an FPGA backpack or hat for the Pi Zero.

The Flea Ohm is based on Lattice’s ECP5 FPGA featuring 24k LUTs and 112kB BRAM. That’s enough for some relatively interesting applications, but the real fun comes from the added 32MB or 128MB of SDRAM, a micro SD card slot, USB + PS/2 host port and an LVDS output.

The combination of Raspberry Pis and FPGAs are extremely interesting and seem to be one of the best FPGA learning platforms anyone can imagine. Another Hackaday Prize entry, the ZinqBerry does a similar trick, but instead of a Pi hat, the ZinqBerry drops a Xilinx Zynq with an FPGA and ARM Cortex A9 core onto a board with Ethernet, HDMI, and USB.

If it’s a Flea or a Zinq, the age of FPGA’d Raspberry Pis is quickly approaching, and hopefully we’ll see them as finalists in the Hackaday Prize. You can check out a video of the Flea Ohm below.

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Retro-Soviet Computer Brings The 80s Back

[Alex Zaikin] made a modern reproduction of an early-80s Soviet hobbyist home computer. Although the design was open, indeed it was published in “Radio” magazine, the project was a mammoth undertaking involving around 200 microchips, so not many “Mikro-80” computers were actually made.

[Alex] wanted to simplify the project and reduce the parts count. These days, 200 microchips’ worth of logic can easily fit inside an FPGA, and [Alex] wrangled the chip count down to seven. Moreover, he made it even easier to build your own retro minicomputer by building a modular platform: Retrobyte.

With the Retrobyte providing all of the essential infrastructure — SD card, tape recorder I/O, VGA outputs, and more — and the FPGA providing the brains, all that was left was to design a period keyboard and 3D print a nice enclosure. Project complete! Time for a few rounds of ASCII Tetris to celebrate.

We’ve covered a number of retro computer projects. We just have a soft spot for them, is all. If you don’t know what all the fuss is about, you could start out with a kit build to get your feet wet. Before long, you’ll be emulating ever obscurer computers of yore in custom logic. And when you do, be sure to drop us a line!